When my children were born, the idea of “You know your body best” became a mantra I repeated frequently. As a new momma, I threw out popular parenting books that didn’t feel right to the type of momma my heart was telling me I wanted to be. I ignored family, friends and even health care professionals who genuinely wanted to offer support, but weren’t able to hear what my internal voice was saying about how to raise my children, when to start working out again, how to spend my free time or even how to grow my relationship with my husband. When it came down to it, I was the only one that truly knew my own physical, mental and spiritual self. As my infant children became toddlers, I started using this same mantra with them. “You know your body best.” I wanted my children to grow up not only knowing their bodies well, but trusting that they were the one true expert when it came to their decisions, emotions and beliefs. I wanted them to begin their life journey listening to what their individual bodies were saying to them rather than me dictating what their decisions should be.
When I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2004, I realized that “You know your body best” was going to be a whole new challenge for me. Just as with parenting, I suddenly had a million and one experts telling me how I should treat MY disease. I have learned throughout the years that the ability to listen to what your body is saying takes time and patience. There have been times that I have had to remove myself from the internet because the information I was reading didn’t sync up with what my body was saying to me. I had to demand additional appointments from my PCP when I knew something serious was going on with my body and needed to be addressed immediately, not in two months when I was scheduled for a return appointment. By knowing my body, I have been able to make decisions that are often different than others with rheumatoid arthritis but have worked for me. An example of this is with shoes. I wear two types of shoes. One is the traditional supportive shoes that many with rheumatoid arthritis wear and are recommended by my rheumatologist. The second type is as non-supportive as I can find. When my feet are swollen, flip flops are the absolutely best. Lots of times after an evening class, I will even take off my shoes to drive home because the pressure on the balls of my feet from the gas and brake pedals feels so good. I love when my rheumatologist responded to my flip-flops with, “Well, I have never has RA, so you would know better than me.”
While I LOVE technology and all that it gives us, I think we also live in a dangerous time. It is so easy to fall into the trap of listening to the numerous experts who tell us how to eat, how to exercise, how to parent (even salad dressing bottles with conversation starters for family meals) and how to treat our chronic illnesses. It is easy to get caught up in all the advice, especially when you see it is working for others. But please don’t forget as you are reading that the expert on your body resides within yourself. You know your body best. Take ideas you read and like but then listen to what your body is saying.
How does one start listening to one’s own body? First off, what is your heart telling you? When my heart has made a decision I am happy with, I know it is always the right one. Sometimes I ask it questions and then give it time to reflect on the answers. Over the years, I have learned that I need time to consider decisions. I no longer feel awkward telling healthcare professionals that I need time to consider whether the treatment they are recommending is best for me. I want to go home, research it and ask more questions before making a final decision. The great thing about this is that once I make a decision, I rarely regret it. Second, what is your body saying? Many times, we see our health care team and everything they see in our labs and x-rays looks fine. However, when we listen closely to our bodies, we know when more needs to be done. You know your body best — advocate for yourself. Third, do your decisions match your belief system? Listening to your body also means matching your decisions with your belief system. For me, that has meant that despite my first rheumatologist telling me diet didn’t matter when it came to rheumatoid arthritis, I went ahead and started working on ways to clean up my diet. It hasn’t cured my rheumatoid arthritis, but I believe it has helped me to gain control over a body that often seems out of my control. Plus, I cannot believe that eliminating or reducing processed foods from our diet doesn’t in some way help all people, sick or not. Lastly, how are you different than every other person on this planet? When making decisions about your body, remember that you are unique. What works for others may not work for you. You have to constantly listen and get to know how your body works. You are the only one that can tell your doctor, family, friends and possibly even employer how you honestly feel and what you need.
Throughout my rheumatoid arthritis journey I have learned that listening to my body may not mean the same thing today as it will tomorrow. Our bodies are amazing. They are always changing, which means we always have to be ready to listen. Listening to your body takes a bit of time, but soon, you will realize that you really do know your body best.